Scott Reeder fondly thumbs his nose at his predecessors—and then invites them over for dinner. His work is ironic and brave; he boldly—if satirically—addresses some of the most troubling crises of our contemporary world with a good-humored shrug and a roll of the eyes, expressing a “deep social ambivalence completely at home in our recessionary time.” Painter offers viewers a glimpse of the Milwaukee-based artist’s most recent paintings, small, vibrant pieces that irreverently reference the work of Modern Art masters including Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse and Philip Guston, drawing on a developed art historical vocabulary while seeming to deny that they are doing so. It is an exhibition in which Reeder successfully and compellingly expresses his disillusionment with idealism in favor of a “material profanity” which instead acknowledges the sacrifices necessitated by the practical considerations of reality.
Reeder’s touch is light, his use of color vibrant and youthful (though masterful—see the gorgeous Drunken Flower), and his application of pigment is often so thin that the bare canvas is evidenced beneath it. His choice of subject matter— seemingly innocuous personified objects such as a banana, a phallus, a pair of dollar bills, a flower—might superficially give the illusion of breeziness. But don’t be fooled: the combination of certain of these “characters’” with their respective activities—smoking, performing stand-up comedy, copulating, collapsing drunkenly into a carafe of alcohol—in fact references a number of dark philosophical and artistic precedents, stereotypes and modern mythologies.
This is Reeder’s brilliance: he uses colors that seem to come straight from a child’s set of acrylics, his opera pinks, lemon yellows and cadmium reds appear un-tempered by the artful mixing of an artist’s hand. His figures are loopy and childish, rendered gesturally and without much attention to detail. Yet every stroke is precise and intentional, the allusions contained within his works far from incidental. “Maybe I’m off my rocker—but does that still-life of a dead flower and a plethora of beer cans somehow bring to mind a Bonnard?” (See Pink Still Life)— in the presence of Reeder’s work, the viewer can’t help but ask himself these questions, and the answer is most-often a resounding “Yes!” Occasionally, Reeder’s references are abundantly clear—take, for example, his “Cubist Cokehead” series—Picasso’s fractured masks lean over tables decorated with lines of cocaine. Sometimes they are less so: is Suicidal Shape (Study in Red)—which depicts a pink canvas hanging “lifeless” from a noose and suspended over a stool in an empty, red room—a mockery of the solitary, tortured artist’s plight as well a reference to Matisse’s Red Studio, as one critic posited? Perhaps. What matters, though, is that despite the seeming simplicity of their surfaces, Reeder’s rivers of reference in fact run deep.
(Images: Scott Reeder, Pink Still Life (2009), Oil on linen, 23 x 27 inches; Scott Reeder, Cubist Cokehead (Man at Table) (2009), Oil on linen, 26 x 22 inches; Scott Reeder, Drunk Flower (2009), Oil on linen, 24 x 20 inches. All courtesy Daniel Reich Gallery, New York)